Melrose in the Scottish Borders is a lovely town that is well worth exploring or spending a few days in. It’s an excellent base for the Borders or an easy day trip from Edinburgh too if you want to escape the city and see something a bit different and away from the main tourist trail.
I used to come to Melrose annually with a group of friends so the town holds a special place in my heart. We’d visit in winter but still find so many things to do and new places to explore each year. We visit the Borders often and when we do we always make time to come to Melrose!
If you’re planning some days out in the Scottish Borders and looking for things to do in Melrose then I hope that this post will help you with your research! There are so many attractions, walks and historic sites to explore in this area, you’ll not be bored.
The main attraction that brings many visitors to Melrose is it’s abbey. It’s a wonderful, romantic and atmospheric ruin which can be seen well enough from outside if you don’t want to pay. For those who want to learn more and get the best views it’s best to visit inside.
The abbey was founded in 1136 and was home to Cistercian monks who came from an abbey in Yorkshire, Rievaulx Abbey. It showed the power of the area that belonged to the King of Scotland at the time, David I. He built a few other abbeys in the Scottish Borders too.
They abbey is wonderful to walk around and explore. The architecture is interesting with gargoyles and other sculptures to spot. Melrose is also apparently where Robert the Bruce’s heart was buried and there’s a spot in the grounds where this is said to be.
Melrose Abbey is a Historic Scotland site and free to members. It’s also a dog friendly attraction which we appreciated on our last visit with our dog Annie!
Right nextdoor to Melrose Abbey is Priorwood Garden which is run by the National Trust for Scotland.
It’s a walled garden that was dedicated to growing for dried flowers, one of the only ones to do so. It also has an impressive heritage apple orchard which is a lovely place to sit with a picnic.
Priorwood Garden is a free thing to do in Melrose although donations are appreciated.
Another garden attraction in the town of Melrose is Harmony Garden which is the more formal and manicured areas that belong to a Gerogian manor house (where you can also stay – perfect for a large group! The smaller cottage is also available). It’s just across from the abbey and you can get wonderful views of it from there.
Again, it’s owned by the National Trust for Scotland and entrance is free, donations appreciated.
You might hear or see the word Trimontium a lot on a visit to Melrose and that’s because it’s located near where a Roman fort was built of the same name. It’s name relates to the ‘three hills’ in which it was in the shadow of.
The Trimontium Museum is a new attraction in Melrose which just opened in 2021 and I’m excited to see it when we next return. It tells the story of the finds of the site and explores the Roman heritage in Scotland. It’s located in Melrose town itself.
Trimontium Fort Site
If Roman history is your thing and the museum has whetted your appetite then you might also be interested in heading along for a walk to the Trimontium Fort Site. Unfortunately you can’t see much from the ground but there’s some information boards to help you understand what was here.
The museum also runs guided tours in the summer months to the site which I’d recommend to find out more from knowledgeable people!
While you’re walking to take in the old roman Trimontium site you can’t fail to see the Leaderfoot Viaduct going over the River Tweed (sometimes known as the Drygrange Viaduct). It dates to 1863 and was used as a railway bridge before closing in 1948.
You can’t access the viaduct itself but there’s a smaller bridge nearby you can walk on to get a good view alongside some information boards.
If you don’t want to walk you can drive and access it from the A68, come off where it’s signposted ‘Leaderfoot Viewpoint, and there’s parking on the roadside.
Explore Melrose’s Galleries and Gift Shops
While Melrose is a small town it’s filled with small independent shops from craft shops to wine and whisky sellers. Some artists display their paintings of the local landscape too in galleries. I always love looking at what others have created!
You could definitely spend an hour or two exploring what the local artisans have to offer.
Buy tablet at the sweet shop
I started something bad when I used to visit Melrose years ago and that was always picking up some homemade tablet in the sweet shop across from the Priorwood Garden.
Tablet is a Scottish sweet which is a little similar to fudge but a harder and more crystal texture. It’s kinda moreish and I’m a little bit addicted!
I definitely recommend checking out the sweet shop there, you’ll find tablet and a host of other traditional Scottish sweets that you just don’t get in the rest of the UK!
Old Railway Station
While on a walk around the town of Melrose try and find the old railway station. It’s actually easier to see when you bypass the town by road than if you’re driving through. If you go along Palma Place there’s the old Railway Station building there which is now a restaurant. Go up the stairs in the centre and you’ll see the remains of the station platform with a few retro signs to give it some character!
River walk and chain bridge
If you just have a short time in Melrose and want to explore a small walk then I recommend heading towards the river and the Chain bridge. It’s a historic bridge, built in 1826 that used to collect tolls for those crossing – you can see the toll house on the south side of the river.
St Cuthbert’s Way
While you might not be willing to embark on such a long journey yourself, you might be interested to know that the long distance path, St Cuthbert’s Way, begins in Melrose. It’s a 100km pilgrimage and walking trail and takes you all the way to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne in Northumberland.
You can’t miss the Eildon Hills that brood over the town of Melrose. There are three of them (hence the Trimontium Roman fort – Three hills) and there are a number of walks that you can do from Melrose to the summits.
I’ll confess I never did these walks myself as my kids were young and not the best walkers, but I know lots of people who did the walk and enjoyed it. It’s still on my list of things to do!
There’s a leaflet that you can download with lots of walks in the area and include walks to the Eildon hills as well which is worth looking at before you go.
The home of Sir Walter Scott, Abbotsford House is just outside the town of Melrose in the bordering Tweedbank.
There’s a few different things to do at Abbotsford that might appeal to visitors.
First is the Visitors Exhibition Centre which is a free to enter and explores the life and history of Sir Walter Scott. They have some of the writer’s items on display and it’s a great introduction if you don’t know much about him. There’s a cafe and shop here too.
You can then also choose to explore the house and gardens if you like. Descendants of his family still live in one wing of the house, but much of it is open to visitors and tours.
The estate is also available to walk around too and there are a number of trails and paths taking you through woods and by the river. Dogs are welcome in the estate and gardens too.
Places to see near Melrose
Outside of the town, there’s lots to see and do around Melrose.
Explore other Borders Abbeys
There are a three other Border Abbeys in striking distance of Melrose and if you have an interest in these then I highly recommend you take time to visit the others.
Dryburgh Abbey is the closest to Melrose, just a couple of miles away, and my favourite since it’s located in a really peaceful spot that’s in the heart of the countryside. It’s also the burial place of the writer Sir Walter Scott.
The other two abbeys are located in Jedburgh and Kelso, both not too far away from Melrose.
Approximately 6 miles away and a 15 minute drive
This is a viewpoint that overlooks the Eildon hills and the town of Melrose. It can be accessed by car and can be tied in with a trip to Dryburgh Abbey or you could combine it with a walk in the area. You get a wonderful vista and it’s a great place to take a picnic and just soak in the view.
Just along from the viewpoint is also a statue dedicated to William Wallace (of Braveheart fame) which is also worth a quick stop at.
Approximate 8 miles from Melrose – about 15 minutes drive
A 15th century keep that helped patrol the border lands that were so often part of a bloody history. This one is also connected with Sir Walter Scott – his grandparents had a farm in the village and he visited as a boy giving him inspiration for his writing.
Approximately 25 miles from Melrose and a 40 minute drive
A border village that is famous for its connection to the military and the Coldstream Guards. There’s an interesting and free museum about the regiment in the town which I highly recommend. The town is right on the border of Scotland and England with the river Tweed marking the border.
Approximately 14 miles from Melrose, about 20 minute drive
Another small town in the Scottish Borders, there’s lots of things to do in Jedburgh, especially for fans of history. You can visit the Castle Jail, Mary Queen of Scots House and of course, Jedburgh Abbey, all in the town itself.
Approximately 15 miles from Melrose, about 25 minute drive.
An impressive castle that’s just by the town of Kelso. Floors Castle was built in the 1700s so it’s much younger than some of the other castles in Scotland but that doesn’t diminish the place at all. It looks just as you might imagine a castle might look! There’s gardens and grounds to explore as well as the castle and there are often lots of events on too.
How to Get to Melrose
Melrose is in the Scottish Borders and is just over an hours drive from Edinburgh down the A68.
It’s a little tricker to get there by bus from Edinburgh – you would need to get a bus to Galashiels and change to get to Melrose.
For those without a car, an organised day trip from Edinburgh which takes in many Scottish Borders sites might be worth considering.
Where to stay in Melrose
There’s a number of hotels in the town itself – I always use Booking.com to search what accommodation is available. They also have a lot of holiday lets as well as hotels now.
Holiday cottages are great for exploring the area. We used Sykes Cottages to stay in nearby St Boswells.